Walking Back to Happiness

Earlier this morning, as I was sitting on my porch working, Mason (my 7-year-old wildlife lover), made an exhilarating discovery.   I was startled to the point of nearly falling out of my chair when he started bellowing for me to “Come here!  Right now!  Bring your phone!  Hurry!”  Now, I figured this had something to do with some form of backyard wonder, since already today he had captured and studied a snail, a roly-poly, a few ants and a slug.   I was not, however, expecting his enthusiasm to be over a pair of mating lizards, furiously going at it on the screen enclosure.  He frantically waved me over as I got closer, like some manic supporter at the finish line of a marathon.   “Look!” he practically screamed at me, finger outstretched and pointing to the lizards.  “Look mom!  He’s smiling!  Take a picture!”  As I attempted to open my camera app while holding back my laughter,   he said one more thing that would bounce around in my head for hours.

“He’s just so happy!”

Lizard Love

Well isn’t that just the damn truth.  From the looks of it, the little guy had plenty of reasons for the big smile on his face.  But it got me thinking.  What is happy?  What does that mean?  The answer is likely different for everyone.  Theoretical physics makes Kaleb (my 10-year-old going on 20-year-old going on 5-year-old science nerd) happy.  It does not make me happy.  Instead, it makes my head hurt and my eyes feel like they’ve just gone for a run through the clothes drier.

Seriously though, what defines happiness?  How do you measure it?  Can it even be measured?

A couple years ago, after the reality awakening experience I wrote about the other day, I picked up a couple of self-helpy type books that focused on habits and happiness.  One of them was Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project”.  It was a good read.  Insightful, funny, and full of ideas about how to perceive and improve your own happiness.  I enjoyed it immensely and vowed to work on my own happiness.  But I did so with a narrow focus, and no real inner rumination past the point of one goal.

I had decided that my key to happiness was paved with college courses.  That if I could just go back and finish school, I could finally be what I was supposed to be, and that new level of self-sufficiency would make me happy.  I wasn’t entirely wrong.  But I was nowhere near right either.  I looked at one tiny corner of my great big life, and decided it was going to be the thing that saved me.

Nevermind that I wasn’t happy with my health, especially after having quit smoking, thus eating my cravings and steadily putting on weight in all the wrong places.  Nevermind that I felt like I was juggling the kids and the house on my own with little to no support.  Not that I ever said these things to my husband, for a variety of ill-conceived bullshit excuses.  I don’t want to start a fight.  Maybe I’m the problem.  This is how relationships are supposed to be.  I’m not holding up my end of the deal.  So on and on the cycle continued.

I figured I would go back to school, and everyone else would have to step up to help me.  They wouldn’t have a choice, because I’d be too busy to do it all on my own.

Let me just tell you, it did not work out that way.  Shocker!  I know.   Instead, I ended up juggling a full-time school schedule, a 30 hour a week job, and coaching Kaleb’s tennis team so I could adjust the schedule to fit around Mason’s baseball practice.  All while doing the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, and the resentment building.  Man, I mastered the art of that last one.  I may never be America’s Next Top Masterchef, but I could win some pretty intense awards for hanging on to anger and resentment.

So, the whole time I’m doing this thing for me, and in the long term, my family, I’m secretly getting more and more angry.  It doesn’t take a genius to realize that is probably not the most effective path to happiness.  In the meantime, my husband was sitting on the other side of this grand new endeavor I had taken on, stewing in his own resentment.  Because I had no time.  I don’t have time to talk about your day, I’m sorry.  But I’ve still got two hours of work to do, a ten page research paper due in two days, I have to leave in fifteen minutes to take one kid to one sport or another, and I can’t remember the last time I ate.

In short, I did not find my happiness, or improve my life.

Do not get me wrong. that doesn’t mean I gave up.  Instead, I plowed forward with all of the stubbornness I could muster.  I put my head down and I worked my ass off through three semesters of school, all while dealing with the boys’ school stuff, work, birthday parties, holidays, and the chaos that came with buying our first house.  And then I took a break.  I took the spring semester off, so I could work on taking our new disaster, oh, um, I mean house, and making it our home.

And still, all of this time slipped by.  All of these warning signs, meltdowns, problems, and cries for help slipped right past me.  Because I was doing what I said I would do with a single-minded focus.  And tunnel vision.  See, I still hadn’t broken out of my fog.  I’d just… expanded it a bit.  Until the fateful yoga class (thank you leaking-firehose-breather for keeping my mind present and helping me to find my moment of clarity).

I still don’t know how to define happiness.  Is it writing this right now?  I can’t say that dissecting all of my flaws and past mistakes is an exercise that makes me happy.  But it makes me feel better.  And isn’t that kind of the same thing?  Does working on a manuscript or reading my book make me feel happy?  Yes.  But they’re also distractions, and habits I fall into very easily when I don’t want to focus on what’s going on right in front of me in the present moment.  So I have to be careful there.  Yoga makes me happy.  When it’s done.  Not typically in the moment unless it’s aerial.  Usually, I’m too busy thinking Would you just please shut up and tell us to get out of this pose from hell? to be happy in the actual moment.

All of these things, and many others, make me happy in the temporary, and all of them help to make up parts of the whole of who and what I want to be.  And probably, that’s the key to happiness.  Finding all of the small things that work together to form a big, messy, complex picture.  I’ve decided that like Mrs. Rubin, I’m going to start my own happiness project – as I mentioned before.  But mine’s going to look a lot different than hers.  As it should, considering we are wildly different people.

First, I’m going to focus on the things I feel I fail at the most.  Self-care.  Real, honest and open communication with my kids and my husband.  Being present, even when it’s painful.  Those, I believe, will be the next three post topics.  Because each one is worthy of a deeper look.  And because I spent seven years -missing out on all of the great my life has to offer because I couldn’t see past the bad.  I couldn’t see past my own failures, even when those closest to me looked and saw only success.

Because that’s what depression is.  A constant state of steaming failure.  And that’s what is going to help me walk away from it  Because that’s what success is.  A constant state of accepting your perceived failures and trying again anyway.

Today, we are celebrating our country’s independence.  And today, I will celebrate my own independence from a miserable existence of only doing what is necessary to get by.  I will sit on a picnic blanket in a park with my family, and I will enjoy every moment.  Even the miserable ones.  Because I can.  Because being present, even in the miserable moments, is true freedom.

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Basket Case…

So, in light of the fact that I feel like I’m going crazy, and it seems like I’ve spent the past week doing nothing – we’re gonna have a review day.

Basically I’m using this as a way to prove to myself that I’m not a total loon.

In the past ten days I have done the following:

  • Drove Kaleb to Orlando for a neurology appointment the day after he gets suspended for the third time (“Insubordination, refusal to listen to adults, running away twice, causing campus disruption).
  • Introduced Kaleb to the Solar System (and no Daddy – I did not bring up Pluto pre-declassification)
  • Spent a night doing everything in my power to keep Kaleb awake until midnight – then promptly woke him up at 5am to prepare for a sleep-deprived EEG (this was harder on me than it was on him – he was pissy, but totally cool with the lack of sleep by the end of it)
  • Drove back to Orlando for an EEG – which ended up including bribery (of the ice cream variety), and a 20 minute power nap for the kid whose second wind hit like a hurricane
  • Vent to Daddy until he’s ready to strangle me.
  • Send Kaleb back to school, have a walk meeting.  Walk meeting promptly interrupted by Kaleb being suspended again (Refusing to stand up, refusing to go to special area).
  • Talk to a Special Education Attorney as I pull my hair out and start shopping for wigs.
  • Blogged about my frustration (is Blogged even a word?)
  • Watched the Biggest Loser and felt like a slack-a$$
  • Got insomnia and wrote Anything But Ordinary…
  • Entered a manuscript in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award contest – seriously nail-bitting stuff
  • Dealt with an average of five hours of Oscar worthy meltdowns a day from both Monsters
  • Made breakfast, lunch and dinner each day
  • Bitched to Daddy some more, just because I know he’d feel like life was way too smooth without me freaking out about something.
  • Made cupcakes that sucked.
  • Bought cupcakes that were amazing.
  • Lost cupcakes to theiving thief Monsters who learned what happens when you’ve Been Caught Stealing…
  • Learned that I can add links to my blog posts and made a decision to make everyone crazy
  • Studied my tail feathers off for Kaleb’s IEP meeting
  • Worked on the assignments for my non-profit class
  • (Mostly) reorganized my closet and our bedroom
  • Kept the house (mostly) clean
  • Booked the location and date for this year’s Walk kick off and awards ceremony
  • Secured food donations for the kick off
  • Played with my kids, went rollerblading, danced like a lunatic, and made a mess of the (mostly) clean house.
  • Rocked the socks off Movie Night
  • Patched Kaleb’s blanke
  • Worked on timelines, goals, agendas and job descriptions for the upcoming Walk meeting
  • Had a two and a half hour marathon IEP meeting
  • Sat down with my co-chair to discuss upcoming Walk meeting (Thanks again ‘C’ for hanging with Mase!)
  • Got a phone call from school telling me Kaleb has been suspended again
  • Lost.  My.  Mind.

So… there you have it.  That’s what my life looked like over the past week – and that’s the crap I can remember.  Countless hours on the phone, the computer, and a rockin’ lack of sleep.

Now he’s been suspended again.  Because he hit another child in the face (who, according to Kaleb, was breaking the rules) – even though we just spent a large chunk of time detailing the things that will set him off, the signs it will happen, and ways to prevent, or intervene.

Here is what I am going to do next:

I’ve made my phone calls and left my messages.  I’ve (as soon as I post this) officially bitched online to a group of strangers who probably couldn’t care less about my problems – but it still makes me feel better.  I’ve picked up my house, made lunch, and put the boys down for a nap.  Now, as soon as Mason is done taking a nap I am going to the store, and I’m buying cupcakes.  A lot of cupcakes.  Then, after the kids go to bed, I am going to sit myself down, and I’m going to eat those cupcakes with the kind of glorious satisfaction one can only get from doing something so insane.  I’m going to do that while I watch The Biggest Loser.  Then I’m going to drown my mommy guilt in more cupcakes, while I try and fool myself into working out tomorrow (yeah, ’cause that’s so going to happen).

Mommy & The Monster Man

Mommy & The Monster Man